NewsQuirks 349

ROBBERY, ITALIAN-STYLE Italian police investigating a string of bank robberies around the country finally located their suspects -- already behind bars. The eight inmates at the Volterra prison were part of a rehabilitation project that put on plays in various cities. Performances were at night, but during the day the actors robbed 11 banks and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a police spokesperson in Genova, who added, "They were real professionals." Sergio Magnis, Ferdinando Attanasio and Antonio La Marra robbed at least five banks in two months last summer in broad daylight and wearing no masks. After each robbery, police arrested the men but had to release them under a 1993 Italian law that prohibits jailing people known to have the AIDS virus. The Washington Post reported only a small part of the $150,000 stolen by the men, dubbed "The Untouchables" by the Italian press, was recovered. At a press conference last August, the men recalled they met each other outside an AIDS treatment center and were discussing their hardships until Magnis said, "I know where the money is." Although the men said they robbed banks only to draw attention to "our sickness," Turin's police chief, Giuseppe Grassi called the gang "three criminals who have lost any sense of shame."ANIMAL HUSBANDRY A Swedish veterinarian called to a farm at Linkoping to examine 2,500 pigs described as reeling drunk told the newspaper Ostgoten that the farmer had unwittingly fed the swine fermented juice, yogurt and milk. As a result, he said, they were behaving "just like humans." Three sheep and a cow died from an overdose of marijuana in south Brazil when farmhand Paulo Sergio Goulart fed them what he thought was dried alfalfa. After finding bricks of plastic-wrapped cannabis hidden in a pen, Goulart told reporters he fed it to the animals, which soon began falling down, bleating and mooing. "It was a good thing that the cow wasn't giving milk," he said, "or people would have gotten stoned by just drinking it." In England, Judge Alexander Butterfield ordered Jean Knowlson, 68, imprisoned for eight weeks for violating a court order not to feed birds in her yard. Butterfield said the dramatic increase in the pigeon population around her home was the result of her feeding the birds up to 100 loaves of bread a week. In inner Mongolia, 530 sheep and goats tried to commit suicide by jumping into a lake. China's Xinhua news agency said 20 herdsmen managed to save 281 of the animals during a three-hour rescue effort, which was hampered when some animals that had been pulled to shore tried to jump back in the water. The Danish government began funding a two-year project to see how well ostriches tend Christmas trees. Denmark provides about 60 percent of the 150 million Christmas trees sold in Europe every year. Christian Moeller-Nielsen proposed using ostriches after the government last year banned many chemicals used in herbicides. Looking for an alternative, he discovered the big birds eat weeds but avoid fir needles, and their manure is a fertilizer. Announcing the development of an environmentally friendly lawn mower powered by rabbits, scientists at Australian National University explained that they couldn't get the rabbits to roll the contraption, essentially a wire rabbit run on wheels, around a lawn until they figured out they should put two males inside. Earlier trials using a male and a female rabbit failed because the animals kept stopping to have sex. A deadly experimental virus that escaped from a biohazard lab on a remote island off Australia's southern coast last October is being hailed on the mainland as a blessing. Authorities estimated that by February it had killed 95 percent of the wild rabbits in South Australia. Having multiplied from a mere dozen brought to Australia in 1859 to breed for sport shooting to 600 million by the 1940s, rabbits are considered pests by farmers and ranchers. Looking for a way to control their numbers, researchers at Wardang Island had infected an isolated rabbit population with the calicivirus, but freak winds blew some of the insects that bit the rabbits to the mainland, where the virus spread. After National Parks and Wildlife officials counted 22 dead rabbits per acre and estimated many more had died under ground, ranger David Peacock termed the figure "horrendous," but added that with the rabbit-killing virus on the loose, "it's a bloody paradise. We may actually get some plants surviving to adulthood." A third of the world's livestock breeds face extinction, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Estimating that three of the 4,000 to 5,000 breeds are lost every two weeks, the FAO blamed new, specialized breeds it said are supplanting less productive but better adapted and more genetically diverse local breeds.THE DEVIL MADE ME CHEW IT Pittsburgh-area waitresses Sybil M. Peck, 30, and Julie L. Kelley, 29, filed a federal lawsuit against a restaurant they said fired them after they complained about a satanic ritual involving a Barbie Doll that was skewered, broiled and deep-fried. The women said some managers and workers routinely talked about "worshipping the devil" and played "blaring and repetitious music in the kitchen" regarding the "sacrificing and desecration of humans."LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT The Dutch penis hasn't gotten any bigger, according to psychologist Erick Janssen, disputing claims to the contrary by the Netherlands Association for Sexual Reform. That research body, which advises the government on standards and sizes for condoms and also sells them, reported it had noticed a growing demand for larger sizes. Pointing out that Dutch men and women are getting bigger all the time because of improved diet and health care, the association concluded that penises must be getting bigger, too. Janssen, who was hired by an Amsterdam condom shop whose owner wanted to know whether it should be stocking a wider range of condom sizes, said the only way to answer the question was clinical measurements. He determined that the average circumference when erect is 4.84 inches -- the same as a 1948 study found.Compiled by Roland Sweet from the nation's press. Send clippings, citing source and date, to POB 8130, Alexandria VA 22306. Odd-news hounds will enjoy the latest compilation, "Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest: True News of the World's Least Competent People" by John J. Kohut and Roland Sweet, published by Plume/Penguin.


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